A Woman’s Guide To Health Screenings
If you’re like most women, you probably put everyone else’s needs in front of your own – including your health. With little time to spare, women often neglect the routine medical visits that are important to maintain good health – particularly as we age.
If your busy schedule has you wondering what health screenings and medical tests are appropriate and when, read on.
Pap Test – The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. The Pap test can tell if you have an infection, abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells, or cervical cancer.
An annual Pap test is recommended in all women age 21 and above. Sexually active young women under 21 also need Pap tests starting within three years of the first time sexual intercourse occurred.
Mammogram – Mammograms play a central part in the early detection of breast cancers because they can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can actually feel them. Current guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association and the American College of Radiology recommend screening mammography every year for women, beginning at age 40. Research has shown that annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers, when they are most curable, and breast-conservation therapies, such as lumpectomy, are available.
What’s more, the National Cancer Institute recommends that women who have had breast cancer and those who are at increased risk due to a genetic history of breast cancer should seek expert medical advice about whether they should begin screening before age 40 and about the frequency of screening.
In addition to annual mammograms, women of any age should perform monthly breast self-exams. Clinical breast exams should be performed every three years for women between 20 and 39 years, and annually for women age 40 and over.
Pelvic Exam – A pelvic exam helps evaluate the size and position of the vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries and is an important part of preventive health care for all adult women. A pelvic exam is done to help detect certain cancers in their early stages, infections, sexually transmitted diseases, or other reproductive system problems.Most experts agree that the first pelvic exam should take place within three years of the onset of sexual activity or by age 21, whichever comes first. Your doctor can recommend how frequently you need to be examined, but many women have a pelvic exam once a year.
Colorectal Cancer Tests – Generally considered the procedure of choice for colon cancer screening, colonoscopy is used to visually examine the entire colon and rectum for abnormalities. Colonoscopy should begin, for most patients, at age 50 and should take place every 10 years following. Patients with known risk factors should follow their healthcare provider’s advice for when to start having this test. The American Cancer Society, as well as other health organizations, recommends the routine performance of a test called a fecal blood culture for adults every year after age 50.
Heart Check – According to the American Heart Association, beginning at age 20, blood pressure should be checked every two years (or more often, if you’re at risk for high blood pressure). Cholesterol levels should be checked every five years beginning at age 20, or every year if your total cholesterol level is above 200, you are over age 45, or if you have other risk factors for heart disease or stroke. Blood glucose levels should be checked every three years beginning at age 45, or more often if you are at risk for diabetes.
Bone Density Test – Testing for bone loss is necessary for all women over age 65, as well as for younger women with at least one known risk factor for osteoporosis, and for all women who have had a hysterectomy. Your doctor will determine how often you should have this test based on your risk factors and any osteoporosis medications you may be taking.
By knowing what medical tests and screenings are appropriate for your age, you can take better care of your health throughout your lifetime.
For more information, please contact Rita Glaab, M.D., at 708-342-0671.